Thirty years ago I came to this country as a refugee. We had nothing. Not even enough money to buy a microwave or a jacket.
My family and I were refugees. We fled our home in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein invaded the country in 1990. In the process, we left everything behind. I remember the day my dad spent his last five dollars to buy me a rotisserie chicken on our way to a refugee camp in Jordan.
He didn't eat anything for days afterwards.
When we got to LA, much to the embarrassment of my mother, I wrote a letter to the mayor of our small city. In that letter, I laid out the story of our escape from Kuwait, the months we spent in various refugee camps, and our eventual arrival to LA.
I shared the shame of poverty. Pulling out food stamps at the grocery store. Bright red shorts because that's all I could afford. The laughter of children because it had to be borne. I talked about how my highly educated parents couldn't find any work except at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. But they chose to come here anyway. Because this is where they believed they could make it.
The Mayor shared my letter with the local news. They embarrassed my mother further and came to interview me. Donations flooded in. Toys, clothes, books. Food. A microwave. A jacket.
Yet, at the same time, we were threatened and harassed by our neighbors. Because you see my name wasn't always Ehsan Zaffar, it was Ehsan Hussain. And many thought my family and I were related to Saddam Hussein, the same man that their sons had gone to fight overseas.
They torched our car. Broke our windows.
We were too poor to move. All we could do is change our very identity. Their ignorance and threats forced my dad to change my name - like the millions of immigrants before me.
18 years later we elected Barack Hussein Obama as the President of the United States. And I went to work for him.
This is the story of America: Unending generosity. Stunning bigotry.
It is STILL the story of this country.
Today, thousands of Americans are risking their very lives to cure, feed and clothe us. Many are working for free. But millions are also going hungry. One out of ten Americans don't have enough to eat anymore. And those people who threatened my family? Their bigotry is now official government policy.
My childhood, writ large, is the fate of many Americans.
But it doesn't have to be. We only need to tell the first part of this story.
Vote so that we learn to love and accept others again. Vote so that when another young refugee comes to this country, she doesn't have to change her name.
🎧 Now Playing on the UnfairNation Podcast
One of my first podcast guests has started her very own podcast which I think you will enjoy listening to. Down to the Struts by Qudsiya Naqui explores why disability is essential to building a more inclusive society for all. Check it out!
A colleague is looking to hire a Racial Justice and Religion Fellow at the Aspen Institute, drop me a note if interested.
Looking for something inspiring to watch? Check out Nusrat Durrani's American Prayer premiering on Friday, October 30.
Reading: How to Write One Song (exactly what it sounds like)
Speaking: To my plants.
Going: back to Los Angeles.
Whether you'll vote for him or not, you have to admit - this is the eye bleach we all needed this year.
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?